Community of Inquiry in Self-Directed Learning

View as a PDF: Community of Inquiry Infographic

Self-directed learning and a Community of Inquiry (CoI) are not mutually exclusive. However, learning by one’s self and learning as a group are often seen as opposites. Although a self-directed approach to learning may offer students more agency and flexibility in how and what they choose to learn (Hiemstra, 1994), it often suffers from too much focus on the self. Self-directed learning need not, and should not, be a solitary activity. Garrison (2015) argues that “thinking is deeply embedded in our environment and the shared experiences of those with whom we engage.” The theory of social constructivism suggests that we not only learn experientially, but that those experiences are contextualized and enhanced through social interaction. Students can learn, under their own direction, while also collaborating with others.

In my context, I teach a course called Free Learning at the secondary level in a K-12 school. Free Learning is both a pedagogical approach and an open-source online learning environment. Through this approach, “students chart their own learning through a varied map of challenges and experiences” (Parker, 2015). A Free Learning map is a network of units where each completed unit may unlock one or more connected units. This offers students a learning environment with scaffolded content along with the agency to choose their own path through the map. This year, with our students learning online, it is essential to consider effective frameworks for collaboration and social learning.

One of the challenges with a self-directed pedagogy is to create an environment that also facilitates teamwork and collaboration. In Free Learning, this is done by offering students to opportunity to enrol in units individually, in pairs, threes, fours, or fives. However, the affordances of a learning technology doesn’t mean students will seize this opportunity (Dron, 2014). As a facilitator of Free Learning, and any other self-directed approach to learning, it’s essential to help foster a mindset of collaborative learning. Rather than seeing themselves as a class of separate learners, students should be encouraged to see their group as a cohort of like-minded learners, each discovering and sharing new knowledge as they explore the Free Learning map together.

To support social learning, I have developed an infographic to apply a Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework to a self-directed context. My infographic offers strategies for facilitators based on teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes & Garrison, 2013). These strategies aim to help overcome the solitary focus of self-directed learning and encourage students to work collaboratively. By applying these strategies to my own teaching practice, I hope to help students see the benefit of working together, and foster a mindset of collaboration and co-creation of knowledge in my class. Collaboration in a community of learners, especially in a classroom setting, is more than just group work: it’s a practice of collectively discovering, sharing, questioning, and reflecting on new ideas.


Dron, J. (2014). Innovation and How we Change. Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda, 237–265.

Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet and Higher Education, 10(3), 157–172.

Garrison, D. R. (2015). Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry. Routledge.

Hiemstra, R. (1994). Self-directed learning. The sourcebook for self-directed learning, 920.

Parker, R. (2015). Free Learning [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Chapter 3: Facilitation. Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from

Thoughts on Digital Facilitation

3 thoughts or ideas you have about digital facilitation:

  • My first thought about digital facilitation is that I have much to learn! This course has come at a great time. Our classes in Hong Kong have resumed as online-only, so each idea or theory from this course stands to offer something tangible that I can try out in my classes right away.
  • A key consideration for digital facilitation is that it is distinct from face-to-face facilitation. Experiences that feel natural in person can become tiring online, expectations for attention span and technical aptitude are different, and the learning experience itself needs to transform rather than be transplanted.
  • Synchronous facilitation, such as the online learning we’ve seen a lot recently, should account for timezones and be empathetic of peoples demands on their time. This may take the form of recorded sessions, as well as polling students for optimal times, or varying the times of live video sessions to offer more possibilities for students to join.

2 questions you have about digital facilitation:

  • When promoting social spaces and community in an online setting, how do facilitators create a space that students feel motivated to authentically participate in, rather than resorting to making participation a mandatory part of the course grade?
  • When facilitating a video setting for younger students, should they be forced to always have their camera on and be present? What about considerations for students who may feel embarrassed about their home setting, or may not have a quiet space available to them during a synchronous learning activity?

1 metaphor or simile about digital facilitation:

  • Good digital facilitation is like a rhythm. Every lesson or learning experience can’t happen at the exact same pace. There needs to be variety and variation, but not too much, just enough that it creates rhythm and flow. For example, weekly synchronous chats, mixed with asynchronous reflections, mixed with self-paced activities. A rhythm isn’t completely random: there’s some structure and repetitiveness in the variation, to create a difference in kind of learning as well as difference in volume of learning. The result is a learning experience that flows together while having both variation and repetition.

Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash

Why not choose open?

As I concluded my research and worked on formulating my ideas into a final paper, I couldn’t shake a lingering question that had emerged through my inquiry: Why not choose open? When a content creator is already choosing to give away their work for free, why not also make it open? I wondered what barriers might hold people back, and considered several possible reasons for this choice. Among these these: a misconception of open, and a fear of losing control.

Open can be hard to understand. In the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2017), the project creators recognize that open licensing struggles from ambiguity. They admit that “after a decade of passionate advocacy, the need for broader awareness of open education persists” (p. 4). However, the awareness required isn’t necessarily that open licensing exists. Many people are aware that Creative Commons and open source exists. However, I wonder if not many people actually know what these licenses mean or how they started. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration creators noted that, after 10 years, “the challenge is not in reaching enough people, but rather in articulating the meaning and value of open education in a way that resonates with mainstream audiences” (p. 4). Advocates of openness need to help people see how open licensing can have a meaningful impact on their own lives, and not just see it as something other people use.

Open can feel like a loss of control. We have been conditioned, in part by the media, to believe that copyright is a necessary good, otherwise theft of intellectual property would run rampant. However, Lessig (2004) argues that this is not the case. Copyright and patents, particularly the kind that hamper creativity, are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. Lessig argues that that Internet can promote a free and open culture, but that corporations are working hard to prevent this. “Free cultures are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon; unfree, or permission, cultures leave much less. Ours was a free culture. It is becoming much less so“ (p. 30). Open licensing doesn’t mean losing control, creators still own a work that has an open license. What it means is empowering others to learn from and build on the past.

To wrap up this blog post, I’d like to leave my readers with one parting thought experiment. If you were to create something—a book, a course, a work of art—and this thing were to take you a lot of time to create, say 500 hours, would you choose to release it with an open license? If not, what are some reasons why you wouldn’t? If so, why, and would you have made the same choice before starting this Masters?


Cape Town Open Education Declaration 10th Anniversary (2017). Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York: Penguin Press. Retrieved from

Photo by marcos mayer on Unsplash

What is the cost of free EdTech?

Recently my team members and I began considering the concept of educational video from a critical perspective. To better understand our chosen technology, we selected the video learning platform Khan Academy, and we undertook the process of enrolling in and progressing through an online lesson about Carol Dweck’s (2006) Growth Mindset. On the surface level, the learning experience through Khan Academy provided colourful illustrations, narrative mini-lessons, and video explanations. The course progressed from one idea to the next, asking the learner open-ended questions between each section. As I read the lessons and watched the videos, I aimed to sharpen my analytical skills and consider what issues lurk beneath the surface of platforms like this. Selwyn (2010) implores academics and educators to “look beyond issues of learning” and consider the “social realities of technology use” (p. 66). In adopting this approach, I focused my critical inquiry towards my personal context of open source and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Free is an enticing word. As an adverb, it offers something “without cost or payment,” and as an adjective, it enables one to act without “the control or in the power of another” (“Free,” n.d.). Free is a particularly attractive concept in EdTech, where many schools are looking to tighten their bottom line. Khan Academy represents a free video learning platform, offering their content under the mission “to provide free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere” (Khan Academy, n.d.). However, as I considered the broader implications of this mission, I wondered if free video platforms really are without a cost. Both the words free and cost have nuanced meanings (“Gratis versus libre,” n.d.). This line of inquiry led me to ask: What is the cost of free EdTech?

Free educational content is not necessarily open. Wiley (2014) defines five properties of open content: retain, revise, remix, reuse, and redistribute. Free video platforms like Khan Academy may offer their videos freely, but their content is often proprietary (Khan Academy, n.d.). Open versus proprietary is an important distinction, one which the word free does not encompass. As an advocate of open content, I wondered what the societal impact of learning platforms like Khan Academy could be if people came to see free yet proprietary EdTech as the highest ideal. Would teachers be dazzled by free content and not realize that they could have genuinely open content? Could OER platforms lose their traction or funding in the face of proprietary platforms backed by billionaire philanthropists? Are many teachers aware of how to find open content, and how to recognize restrictive licenses?

If video platforms like Khan Academy become the norm, what are we missing out on? Losing one thing in exchange for another constitutes a cost (“Cost,” n.d.), and a loss of openness may be just one of the many hidden costs of free EdTech.

In undertaking this critical inquiry, I recognize that my perspective is not unbiased. As an open source developer and advocate of open pedagogy, I am passionate about the impact that a philosophy of openness can have on education. However, I realize that open source and OER are not a silver bullet. As I continue this inquiry and develop a learning plan, I will need to consider a wide range of research and pay specific attention to the biases that may be implicit in my initial arguments. I’d be interested to hear thoughts and additional perspectives from fellow MALAT students that may help me refine this line of inquiry.



Cost. (n.d.). In Lexico Dictionary by Oxford.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House Incorporated.

Free. (n.d.). In Lexico Dictionary by Oxford. Retrieved from

Gratis versus libre. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from

Khan Academy. (n.d.). Khan Academy | Free online courses, lessons & practice. Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65–73.

Wiley, D. (2014). Defining the “open” in open content and open educational resources. Retrieved from


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Reflections on Leadership and Proximity

At the beginning of this course, we looked at leadership traits. What attributes lend themselves to good leadership? Many of these attributes, drawn from Kouzes and Posner’s (2011) characteristics of admired leaders, related to supportiveness, trust, cooperation, and communication. Reflecting on the readings and discussions throughout this course, I’d like to add one more item to this list: proximity. I don’t mean physical proximity, although that has certainly been at the forefront of the past several weeks. Proximity to me, as a quality of leadership, works hand-in-hand with other attributes and modifies their effectiveness and authenticity.

The language a leader chooses to use conveys proximity through their communication. Does a leader choose language that includes them in the larger group, such as “we,” or do they distance themselves through “you” and “they”? Proximity, in this way, can be seen as a facet of reflective leadership, by cultivating an awareness of the behaviours and language that brings a leader closer to their team (Castelli, 2016). In remote communication—as many of us have experienced these past weeks and months—the responsiveness of a leader can also convey a strong sense of proximity. Timely, frequent updates create a sense of leadership being close to the issue at hand.

Emotional proximity also shines through in authentic leadership. Closing the distance between the team and its leader can be a matter of word choice: perhaps a personal anecdote or a vulnerable moment. Self-awareness and mindfulness are essential to reflective leadership (Castelli, 2016), and enable leaders to build closer emotional proximity to their team. Leaders need to be able to share the same burdens of stress, express the same frustrations, and celebrate the same small wins as their team.

Proximity is also integral to change and project management. Does a leader set a directive into motion from afar and expect it to waterfall down the hierarchy as each person plays their role, or do they move with the project at each step of the way? A leader who has proximity to a project can support more effectively through direct observation. Rather than asking, “how is the project going?” they have a close-up view of the project and can ask meaningful questions, such as “how was the response to your presentation in the meeting on Monday?”

Looking to the future, I’d like to cultivate a leadership style of proximity. In projects that I lead, I’d like to remain close to the issues and close to the team members so I can support them from a first-hand perspective. How can I cultivate this leadership style? It likely involves aspects of adaptive leadership to remain close to individual needs and goals (Khan, 2017). It may involve qualities of values-based leadership to help people see their goals and help them achieve what they cannot do by themselves (O’Toole, 2008). Importantly, it should involve developing the leadership capacity in others (Huggins, 2017). Maintaining proximity enables leaders to see and support the qualities that allow others to do their best work.

I recognize that not every leader has the ability to maintain close proximity to each person or project they lead, but overall an awareness of proximity may help them remain closer than they would otherwise be. It can be easy to become distant from delegated tasks, but as a leader, it is essential to remain close enough to retain a clear perspective. Change cannot be expected to happen blindly with an initial burst of energy: it must be guided down a well-defined path.

Proximity, now in its most tangible sense, is something many of us have been deprived of in the past weeks and months. However, as we move forward into the uncertain weeks ahead, we can look to find different ways to express our proximity and support each other from afar.


Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217–236.

Huggins, K. S. (2017). Developing Leadership Capacity in Others: An Examination of High School Principals’ Personal Capacities for Fostering Leadership. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(1), 1–15.

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2011). The characteristics of admired leaders. In Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from Books 24×7 e-book database.

O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes Toward a Definition of Values-Based Leadership. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 1(1). Retrieved from


Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Change as a Reactive Force

Not all change is planned for. When my school went online-only for the first time on February 3, 2020, we needed to implement a wide-scale change on short notice. All instruction—from kindergarten to grade 12—was to move to online learning platforms until further notice. Unlike projects that can be planned months in advance, our shift to online learning needed to happen with a single week’s notice, occurring over a holiday when many people were travelling. Compounding the issue was the uncertainty of not knowing when classes would resume: we are now headed into our tenth week of campus closure, with initial expectations of only a week or two. Nevertheless, change happens. Project plans were put into place as well as continuously adjusted. In this kind of reactive change, concepts like organizational readiness can only be assessed in hindsight. Yet, I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from the on-the-fly project planning that occurred in our situation.

Despite an unprecedented scenario unfolding, it was not chaos. Early on, leadership set a clear objective that our school would continue to deliver high-quality education online to the best of our abilities. From a systems theory perspective, the shift to online learning was a change that affected every stakeholder in the school: from our teachers, students, and parents to our support staff, office administrators, IT technicians, and cleaning staff. To put this plan into action, we needed a high degree of communication and collaboration, all online and all on short notice. The project life-cycle of initiation, planning, implementation, and closing still occurred (Watt, 2014), albeit condensed into a matter of days and hours.

Uncertainty was the first and most poignant barrier we encountered. Leadership was in a difficult position: people look to leaders to make decisions, yet faced with measures beyond their control, there were few absolutes to be offered. Leadership could not give definite return dates for school, they could only provide plans pegged to milestones a week or two in advance. Aspects of reflective leadership became essential: school admin needed to be highly tuned to the emotional and behavioural situation of their community (Castelli, 2016),

Distance was also a barrier. Throughout the first month of this situation, our school leaders were spread throughout various countries and timezones. In this situation, adaptive leadership helped our admin respond to a complex situation where environmental, cultural, and societal factors were involved (Khan, 2017). Having a strong adaptive leadership style helped our admin rely on each other and on teachers to gather data make informed decisions.

As the weeks wore on, a new barrier emerged: student stress was on the rise, motivation was dwindling, and parent involvement was highly variable. Online learning relies heavily on organization skills and self-motivation, but not all students are strong in these areas, and many were in struggling with emotional stress. This situation required an evolving needs analysis, and involved adapting and reducing the workload for students, as well as connecting students with staff to help support their mental and physical health.

As the campus closure continued, teacher workload and stress was also mounting. It’s not easy to transform lessons that were intended to be delivered in-person to an online-only format. Teachers worked hard to connect with students through a variety of platforms, but the workload was often well beyond a regular school day. Change management as a reactive force was essential. We did not have broad sweeping plans in place, nevertheless aspects of change managment occurred. Leadership needed to consolidate improvements and create short term wins (Kotter, 1996). They also needed to create a shared vision of what online learning looked like for teachers, to ensure teachers did not feel pressured to work beyond expectations. Incidentally, in reactive change management, a sense of urgency is already well established.

There is clarity in hindsight. Under scrutiny, hindsight can find flaws in even the most polished plan. However, I think it’s fair to say our leadership made sound decisions with the information they had. I think one lesson that can be learned from this situation is pace: a reactive change does not have to be a frenetic change. The stages of change management and project planning can still occur, but they have to be progressive—in smaller steps—to leave room for adaptation. New technologies can be adopted, but not all of them, and not all at once.

Our campus closures are not over and our online learning continues as we go into week ten. As the rest of the world begins school closures on their continents, it is inspiring to see so many educators sharing their ideas and best practices. There is much to be learned from change as a reactive force, and I think leaders around the world would be wise to listen to the voices from educators who are learning on-the-fly and sharing their experiences.


Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217–236.

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Watt, A. (2014). Project Management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus. Retrieved from


Leading Change in Digital Learning Environments

Leading Change in Digital Learning Environments
Leading Change in Digital Learning Environments (Kuipers, 2020) – Click to view full size


Change is interconnected. Systems theory asserts that “a change in any part of the system creates change throughout the system” (Biech, 2007). This cascade of cause-and-effect suggests that for an organizational change to be successful, it needs to account for many interconnected elements. My infographic identifies six elements that I believe are essential for leading change in digital learning environments (Kuipers, 2020). On its own, this infographic is not a step-by-step model for change, but highlights valuable questions for leaders to consider when planning for change.

Before looking at how to implement change, leaders need to be able to answer why: Why change, why this change, and why now? Answering these questions can help leaders to shape an informational strategy for change (Biech, 2007). In my infographic, I’ve identified readiness and relevancy as the first gears to begin turning (Kuipers, 2020). Technology evolves in a continuous hype cycle (Gartner, n.d.), and digital learning environments are no exception. For the teachers and students within these environments to support a proposed change, they need to feel it is necessary and relevant (Weiner, 2009). “Problems arise when some feel committed to implementation but others do not” (p. 2). The first step for leading change should be to assess how ready an organization is to change.

A sense of personal relevancy is also essential for members of an organization to value a change and feel committed to it. When undergoing a fundamental shift in thinking, a colleague of mine noted the impact of running professional development to share the research and evidence for that change (R. Parker, personal communication, February 21, 2020). Sharing the underlying rationale gives people time to make personal connections to the evidence and discover how it is relevant to them. Building this sense of readiness and relevancy begins turning the gears towards a shared vision for change.

Leading change requires creating a vision and empowering others to act on it. This shared vision often involves a cultural shift and change in language, forming an attitudinal strategy for change (Biech, 2007). In my infographic, vision is the largest and most interconnected gear (Kuipers, 2020), which serves to illustrate the central role it plays in several models for change (Jick & Kanter, 1992; Kotter, 1998; Lecke, 2003; as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). In an interview, a colleague expressed how a shift in language was essential for creating a shared vision (R. Parker, personal communication, February 21, 2020). Within his context, leadership took on the roles of thought-leader and provocateur, providing opportunities for staff to encounter and grapple with new perspectives. This form of attitudinal strategy aims to “change mindsets and, as a result, change behavior” (Biech, 2007).

Along with a shared vision, members of an organization need to be empowered to act on that vision (Kotter, 1996). In a digital learning environment, this may mean facilitative empowerment such as resources and technology (Biech, 2007), but also organizational empowerment through adaptive leadership to be a change-agent among peers (Khan, 2017). With a shared vision and empowerment within an organization, change can begin to pick up momentum.

Successful change requires time and the ability to gain momentum within an organization. Where vision and empowerment can create an attitudinal strategy for change, time and momentum can facilitate it. Creating this facilitative strategy “depends on a shared responsibility and the involvement of everyone in the organization” (Biech, 2007). When implementing a disruptive change to a school’s timetable, a colleague described how they gained momentum through in-person communication, both internal with staff and external with the community (M. Brown, February 21, 2020). In his context, leadership also needed to overcome resistance, which meant ensuring staff and students had resources and support to “pace [their] lessons, assignments and expectations” based on the changed timetable. In my interviews, colleagues often referred to this momentum as “buy-in”: a shared vision may get the gears turning, but without time and support, a change is unlikely to pick up momentum within an organization.

Managing successful change requires not only a plan but also an understanding of the interconnectedness of that plan. Can leaders create a shared vision without time? Will a new platform pick up momentum if it is irrelevant? By approaching change through a systems theory perspective, leaders can consider the people, technologies, and behaviours that are affected by their change (Biech, 2007). My infographic aims to provoke thought and ask questions, the answers to which may help leaders plan for more successful changes in their digital learning environments.


Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: A model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234–262.

Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development. Retrieved from

Gartner. (n.d.). Gartner Hype Cycle | Hype Cycle Research Methodology [Website]. Retrieved from

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Kouzes, JM, & Posner, BZ (2002). The leadership challenge. San Francisco, CA.

Kuipers, S. (2020). Leading change in digital learning environments [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1), 1–9.

Leading Change Through Subtraction

Many changes in modern schools are driven by the imperative to introduce new technologies. However, not all improvements are made by adding. What does change look like when we consider the subtraction of technology from a school? One of the most thoughtful organizational changes I have read about recently was an article by Ross Parker (2020) regarding the evolving technology policy at International College Hong Kong (ICHK). In “Can We Stop Software From Eating School?,” Parker expresses a growing concern over device use in schools, and the decision to reclaim “some of the quiet space commandeered by digital technology” (para. 14). His article builds a narrative of why ICHK decided to restrict the use of devices on campus, and how leading this scale of change took careful consideration and planning.

Subtracting technology from modern schools is not an easy change, and it “swims upstream” from the prevailing trend. At ICHK, leadership “asked [them]selves how [they] could orchestrate a sea change, without coming across as a bunch of old, irrelevant reactionary Luddites” (Parker, 2020, para. 13). Applying Al-Haddad and Kotnour’s (2015) taxonomy, the change in technology policy at ICHK represents a large-scale long-term change, which required internal alignment of the change type and change methods employed. Although it’s not apparent if a specific change method was used, it is evident that this change was made through a holistic approach. Leadership spent “9 months of intense discussion, drafting, consultation, introspection and iterative improvement” (Parker, 2020, para. 13), which is congruent with Kotter’s focus on Leading Change through a shared vision and strategy (Kotter, 1996, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). The result was a conscientious cultural change in the school that focused on subtraction.

Organizations that see change as addition without subtraction may end up with a soup of educational technology, seasoned with policies and chunky add-ons. This soup is the is the exact situation that many digital learning platforms end up in. Feldstein (2017) shares a cautionary narrative of adding, adding, and adding features to educational apps. Particularly adding features that are redundant and overlap with other systems. He terms this effect “Feldstein’s Law: Any educational app that is actively developed for long enough and has a large enough user base will become indistinguishable from a badly designed LMS” (para. 19). As a software developer working with educational technology, I have seen this runaway addition of features in several projects. Faced with a “a sense of urgency as emerging technical practices … challenge the traditional academic processes” (Udas, 2008, para. 2) the response is often to continue adding one new idea to the next.

Change is not just addition. It can—and vitally, should—include subtraction. The direction of a change should be considered along side Al-Haddad and Kotnour’s (2015) change types of scale and duration. Leaders looking to make change in their organizations can make equally powerful impacts by subtracting rather than adding: perhaps phasing out a technology, scaling back on an initiative, or pruning an unwieldy policy.


Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: A model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234–262.

Feldstein, M. (2017). A flexible, interoperable digital learning platform: Are we there yet? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Parker, R. (February 10, 2020). Can we stop software from eating school? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Udas, K. (June 30, 2018). Distributed learning environments and OER: The change management challenge. [Blog post]. Retrieved from


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Digital Leadership in Open Source

What does leadership look like when participation is voluntary? This question came to mind as I was recently reading about leadership attributes. In one of my professional contexts, I work as a maintainer and community leader for an open source school platform called Gibbon. In this open source context, the people who choose to contribute their time and expertise to build the project are there of their own volition. I wondered: what attributes of leadership are the most essential in this situation? Throughout my readings, I used this question as a lens to examine and consider digital leadership in an open source context.

Trust is a cornerstone of open source communities, since many members join the community as strangers. In a blog post about digital leadership, Sheninger (2014) states that “it all begins with trust” (para. 6). He urges digital leaders to “give up control” in order to “unleash creativity and passion” in others (para. 6). This can be a difficult yet essential step for open source leaders. At some point, there’s too much work to be done by one person, and a leader needs to share the load. However, since members there there voluntarily and many have never met in person, it can be a tricky position to trust them, and in turn be trusted by them. In this way, trust is a two-fold attribute: both trusting—the capacity to place belief and reliance in others, and trustworthiness—the “ability to be relied on as honest or truthful” (“Trustworthiness”, n.d.). Kouzes and Posner (2011) suggest “the simple truth is that trusting other people encourages them to trust you, and distrusting others makes them more likely to distrust you” (p. 78). With this leadership attribute in mind, it may not be possible to build an open source community without some fundamental level of trust.

Leadership in an open source context should also be adaptive and flexible. Khan (2017) highlights how adaptive leadership provides a greater responsiveness towards change and increased motivation in followers. Her research finds that adaptive leadership is beneficial “in complex situations where the leader-follower relationship is attended to, but so are all environmental, cultural, and societal factors that will affect leaders and followers” (p. 180). Open source communities are fundamentally complex: their members may be anywhere in the world, speak different languages, and have different values. Paying attention to the leader-follower relationship in an open source community is also crucial because the organization structure may not follow a standard top-down hierarchy. Transactional reward-based leadership may be less effective because community members are already participating voluntarily, and their motivation is likely to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Adaptive leadership, with its flexibility and responsiveness towards complex factors, becomes an essential approach for digital leadership in open source communities.

Transparency and communication may also be essential leadership attributes for situations where participation is voluntary. Sheninger (2014) numbers communication as the first of seven Pillars of Digital Leadership in Education. He states that “digital leadership is about engaging all stakeholders in two-way communication” (para. 9). I think two-way communication is a logical foundation for open source communities: leaders may not see much headway by giving directives or commands one-way. “Static, one-way methods such as newsletters and websites [no longer] suffice” (Sheninger, 2014, para. 9). Community members are there voluntarily, and their motivation to contribute is likely tied to their having a voice in the project. For open source leaders to build a thriving community, they may need to build channels of communication that foster active two-way participation in the project.

What other leadership attributes are essential to a context where community members are voluntary, distributed globally, and motivated intrinsically? As I continue to research leadership and change in this course I hope to revisit the ideas in this blog post, and I’m curious to hear what leadership attributes my cohort members might suggest adding to this list.


Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Engender Trust. In Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Center for Leadership in Education, 4. Retrieved from

Trustworthiness. (n.d.). In Lexico by Oxford University Press (OUP). Retrieved from

Image by MetsikGarden from Pixabay

Tech Ed 101: Technological Reproduction

Technology and civilization have stepped together through history, so much so that they are often equated as the same thing. When we look back through history, we’re often looking back at the progress of “technological evolution” (Dron, 2014, p. 241). Humans are so adept and noteworthy for their technological creations that the philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously suggests “that humans might be the ‘sex organs of the machine world’” (McLuhan, 1964, as cited in Dron, 2014, p. 240). Perhaps our technology classes in schools should add “Tech Ed”, and include a primer on technological reproduction. However humorous, the conflation of human evolution with technological evolution presents a conceptual problem: is every technology an advancement?

Understanding the difference between innovation and change is essential to understanding technological evolution. As with biological evolution, not every adaptation is beneficial: an organism’s environment will determine the “survival of the fittest” (Darwin, 1859). How do we determine what is fittest in a technological sense? Dron (2014) presents an overview of technological change in distance education. Among the change he studies are generational shifts, such as evolving pedagogies from behaviourist to constructivist models (p. 239). These shifts represent the environment for technology changing, and the fittest technologies would be the ones most adapted to the prevailing theories, ideas, and mindsets. However, even the metaphor of evolution suggests an overall advancement. In which ways can change be technological, but not innovative?

Perhaps innovation must represent a change in more than one aspect of an idea. The form of an object can change, but unless its purpose, intent, or mindset change, can it be called an innovation? For example, designing a better desk might be a classroom invention, but designing a teaching approach that doesn’t require desks may be a true innovation. Dron (2014) suggests that an important aspect of technology is the degree of choice it affords. Soft technologies allow greater choice and flexibility, whereas hard technologies limit choice (p. 241). “The more we embed processes and techniques in our tools, be they pedagogies or machine tools, the fewer choices are left to humans” (p. 242). By this definition, an innovation is something that moves on a continuum further towards being a soft technology. This suggests that innovation is a fundamental change, not just on the surface-level.

Can we actually define innovation? As Dron (2014) points out, even the concept of technology itself “is a slippery and evolving concept” (p. 239). The concept of innovation therefore remains even more elusive, but nonetheless important. As I teach young minds in my computer science class, I find myself wanting to add some more “Tech Ed” into the curriculum, and help foster a healthy skepticism of the world of technological innovation we live in.


Dron, J. (2014). Innovation and How we Change. Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda, 237–265. Retrieved from

Darwin, C. (2004, Original work published 1859). On the origin of species, 1859. Routledge.

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